It’s that time of year again–time to give back! During the holidays, we are reminded of how lucky we are to have resources, opportunities, and the freedom to create the lives of our dreams.
This makes it the perfect season to get started with a new volunteer opportunity, fundraising mission, or personal goal for the rest of the year. If you’re a full-time van nomad, you might not know where to start when it comes to giving back. Moving around often makes it tricky to get established with a particular local organization. On the other hand, van life allows you to have a variety of memorable volunteer experiences across the country, and even travel to areas with the most need.
If you don’t have the bandwidth for volunteering regularly, there are other ways to support your favorite causes–through raising awareness, making donations, and even committing to strategic lifestyle changes. Ready to make a difference? Read on for our guide to having a positive impact as a van lifer.
Cover Image by @dustywildroad
Volunteering is one of the best ways to give back because it doesn’t cost anything but your time. Plus, volunteering has the added benefit of boosting your happiness and providing a sense of purpose. Volunteering on the road also means you’ll get to meet new people and connect over shared interests and passions.
Get involved no matter where the wind takes you with a national organization with multiple chapters. For example, Habitat for Humanity has locations across the U.S. that you can incorporate into your road trip plans. They specifically aim to get van travelers involved with a volunteer program called RV Care-A-Vanners. Love the outdoors? Sign up with the National Park Service to get outside while doing important preservation work. The benefit of regularly volunteering through one national organization is that you’ll know roughly what to expect each time you show up and you’ll build a skill set that will make you a more helpful volunteer.
Vans also allow you to travel to destinations specifically for volunteering opportunities. Passionate about animals? You can sign up with the Humane Society of the United State’s Animal Rescue and Response Team to get notified when pets need help after events like natural disasters.
Alternatively, you can pick and choose new nonprofits to work with wherever you go. Maybe you spend one day packing items at a food bank, the next serving meals at a soup kitchen, and another participating in a beach cleanup. There are plenty of organizations that don’t require experience and are happy to have your helping hands for just one day. Free-spirited wanderers will probably gravitate towards this approach.
Whether you’re looking for a one-time volunteering event or an ongoing position, check out Volunteer.gov. They offer a helpful search tool to find opportunities based on your desired cause, type of position, difficulty level, time frame, and, of course, location. Volunteermatch.org serves a similar purpose and even has an option for virtual volunteering, which brings us to our next point.
Many van dwellers are familiar with the process of working from the road. Virtual work is popular for its flexibility and convenience, and the same is true of virtual volunteering. If you’re a digital nomad, you probably already have a specific skill that can be done from your van. So why not put that skill to use for a cause you care about?
If you’re a web developer, consider revamping the website of an amazing organization pro bono. Maybe you’re a graphic designer; offer to help your favorite grassroots cause by creating their social media posts or flyers. If you’re a therapist, your skills could be put to use by a suicide prevention hotline. The benefit of this approach is that you can build a relationship with one organization, add a lot of value to the team with your unique skills, and travel wherever you like at the same time.
One of the easiest ways to make a positive impact every day of the year is by utilizing small but sustained lifestyle habits. For example, if you’re passionate about the environment, you can commit to eating less meat, reducing your waste, or adding solar panels to your van. If you strive to make those without homes feel cared for, try preparing a bunch of small kits with items like socks, gloves, wet wipes, water, and snacks to give to people you see along your travels.
We all know about “Leave No Trace,” but we challenge you to go one step further and leave the places you visit better than you found them. Make it a habit to clean up trash at campsites, nature areas, and even in parks and city streets. Keep clean while you clean by investing in a pair of gloves or a grabber and bringing a bag for trash on your walks.
Similarly, you can give back to fellow campers and adventurers by sharing information on the van life app of your choice. Get in the habit of leaving reviews and posting helpful information about campsites, RV parks, and other resources like free water you find along the way.
Want to benefit the communities you travel through with every purchase? Make a point of shopping at local stores. Everything from food to holiday gifts can be bought locally. You’ll benefit by getting goods that are generally higher quality and more unique. Most importantly, the money goes back into the community instead of to a giant corporation.
We think the lifestyle approach is great for busy van lifers because your helpful new habits will integrate seamlessly into your life and won’t feel like work.
Many van dwellers have a significant presence on social media and the van life community is constantly growing on apps like Instagram. Take advantage of this huge network by sharing helpful resources and important posts with your followers.
In this day and age, social media can help vital causes gain traction and visibility across the country and world. Posting also has a ripple effect by inspiring others to care about the issues you’re talking about and give back themselves.
For those with more expendable income than expendable time, it might make more sense to donate to an organization that does good work in the areas you are passionate about. Even better, set up recurring monthly or yearly donations to ensure your support extends beyond the holiday season.
Not all donations are created equal. In fact, some organizations can do far more good than others with the same amount of money. Check out Giving Multiplier for the opportunity to split your donation between your favorite charity and your choice from a list of super-effective charities recommended by the experts. The best part is that the organization matches your donations so your dollar can go even further.
Looking to donate to a van life-specific organization? Homes on Wheels Alliance helps people escape difficult situations by providing vans, repairs, and other supplies, as well as a supportive nomadic community.
You can donate in non-monetary ways as well. If you ever decide you don’t need some of your belongings, clear out the clutter and give items a second life by donating them. Drop off warm clothes, backpacks, tents, and sleeping bags at homeless charities. Used camping and outdoor gear can be a boon for youth groups that introduce children to the joy of the great outdoors. Visit Gear Forward or Outdoor Outreach to donate your unwanted gear.
If you have an older van and are planning on upgrading, consider donating your rig to Cars2Charities, where you can maximize your tax deduction while choosing the charity you want to support. Another great option is donating your van to the aforementioned Homes on Wheels Alliance. If you’re in the market for a replacement rig, check out Rec Van for a premium selection of new and used adventure vans.
No matter where you travel and how you choose to give back, you can rest easy knowing you are making a difference along the way. Do you have a favorite organization or van life volunteer opportunity that we missed? Let us know in the comments!